Central Intelligence isn’t a horrible movie. It coasts on the charm of its leads. Dwayne Johnson is eager, overzealous and blissfully unaware. He imagines this close personal friendship with Kevin Hart’s character that was never really there. He’s so naive he seems almost mentally challenged. Kevin Hart plays an exasperated, persnickety fuss-budget. The two are a mismatched pair. If you can appreciate the constant mugging from the two stars then you should cuddle up to the film’s modest charms. Me? I was hoping for a bit more story than the threadbare plot that’s served up here. For the record, it’s some nonsense about selling critical U.S. satellite codes to terrorists. There’s also some confusion as to whether Bob Stone is actually a good or a bad guy in the CIA but you’d have to be fast asleep not to figure that out. Yes it’s totally predictable, but that’s not the issue. I found their hijinks mildly amusing. I simply never laughed out loud at any point. It’s so thoroughly generic. Directer and co-writer Rawson Marshall Thurber has done better work. I’d uphold DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story over this. What sets Central Intelligence apart is Wayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. I recommend this to very forgiving fans (and only fans) for whom these celebrities can do no wrong. Benefiting from the incredible chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, Central Intelligence is the definition of a movie that makes you thank the cast for keeping you invested. While this film will never be worthy of the title “original,” it definitely works very hard to get there. Setting up a few plot twists to come in the first act and paying every one of them off in the climax, you can see the care put into the script; However, that care falls by the wayside when the twists become slightly too convoluted. Most of them make sense, but others fall flat on their face, leaving no time to recuperate before the next one. Following Robert (Johnson) and Calvin (Hart), we pick up twenty years after the fact that Calvin had been voted most likely to succeed in high school and Robert being the fat kid getting picked on. Calvin grew up to be an accountant, while Robert became involved with the Central Intelligence Agency. Recruiting Calvin due to his skills, Robert unwillingly takes Calvin on as his partner in crime and action and hilarity ensues. Sort of. This film is being marketed as an action/comedy, but the trailers have been showing almost every comedic beat sadly. At it’s core, this is an unlikely buddy action film with comedy sprinkled throughout, so do not be fooled by the trailers. I feel that I may have enjoyed the film slightly more if I knew that going in. Did I have fun watching Central Intelligence? Yes I did, but to a point. The funny things about the big twists in this film is that you never see them coming, but they are pretty dumb when they happen, which was surprisingly stupid in it’s own right. The biggest problem this film has, is the fact that the script doesn’t try hard enough, making the film seem like it is desperately hoping these two actors will pull through. Luckily, Central Intelligence pulls off that feat in style. The charisma on screen between these two is electric to say the least, mainly due to their incredibly large reputation they have accumulated over the years. It was nice to see Dwayne Johnson being able to play the comedic type over Kevin Hart. That was a great change of pace for Hollywood comedies such as this. Overall, Central Intelligence has a few pretty funny moments and the two leads are very enjoyable to watch together, but the film gets too muddled in it’s own story, trying to be too clever for it’s own good. With some solid comedy and some fun action sequences, I will warrant this film only to fans of either Dwayne Johnson or Kevin Hart. Most people seem to like these two, but if you don’t this film will probably fall completely on it’s face to you. Central Intelligence is a forgettably fun flick.
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Spoiler Note: The review reveals the name of a couple of high profile actors who make cameo appearances. I think these are supposed to be surprises, although they’re inconsequential. Nevertheless, if you don’t want to know, don’t read past the fourth paragraph.
Action comedies are among the easiest films to make but the hardest ones to make well. To succeed, they must not only contain enough laughs to tickle the funny bone but sufficient effective action to keep the pulse elevated. Central Intelligence fulfills neither of those criteria. With its canned, predictable action sequences and mirthless attempts at humor, it displays an ineptitude that is frankly shocking considering the talent involved.
On paper, it sounds like a workable idea: a buddy movie featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart – two of the biggest stars in the action (Johnson) and comedy (Hart) arenas. A modern-day reworking of the Twins concept, the problems start with the writing and end with the execution. It’s hard to imagine a worse script. Central Intelligence isn’t just hampered by a moronic storyline (suspension of disbelief be damned) but even Kevin Hart can’t make the dialogue funny. I laughed once – during the end credits when an outtake breaks the fourth wall. All the best bits are in the trailer, and it’s a terrible trailer.
The movie begins “20 years ago” with lead characters Bob Stone (Johnson) and Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) in high school. Bob’s a fat nerd who represents prime pickings for a group of bullies. The only one to come to his defense is the ultra-popular, “most likely to succeed” Calvin. Cut to the present – Calvin, married to his high school sweetheart, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), is slaving away in a dead-end job. On the eve of the high school reunion, Bob – now a buff muscle-man – looks him up. The two go out for a drink and, when a bar brawl erupts, Bob shows Calvin his new moves. Turns out, however, that Bob isn’t just a nice guy looking to reminisce – he’s either a rogue CIA agent out to make a killing by selling dangerous secrets or a squeaky clean operative who has been framed. (Can you guess which one he is??) Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) doesn’t seem to care whether Bob is innocent or guilty – she just wants to catch him and she’ll use Calvin to get her way. This sets up a lot of running around that culminates, as expected, at the reunion.
Twins got a lot of mileage out of the chemistry between mismatched “brothers” Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito. That movie’s story is forgettable – the only thing anyone remembers about it is the unlikely pairing. Central Intelligence’s attempt to mine the same vein of box office gold fails from the start when it’s evident that Johnson and Hart have all the interpersonal combustibility of two inert gases. They both seem like fish out of water. Hart, neutered by the demands of a PG-13 script, is uncharacteristically muzzled. Johnson, forced to act like a gargantuan teddy bear, is awkward throughout.
The PG-13 is undoubtedly part of the problem. The movie is chock-full of bloodless violence. Perhaps 1000 rounds are fired from guns and maybe a half-dozen (max) find targets. What’s the point? Our knowledge that no one is going to be seriously injured (never mind killed) reduces the film’s “action” to routine filler. So we wait for the humor to kick in, which doesn’t happen. Even the inclusion of two “name” actors known for their comedy work (Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy) can’t provoke more than a grimace.
To add insult to injury, the movie attempts to shoehorn an anti-bullying “message” into this mess. Like everything else in Central Intelligence, it belly-flops. Giving a movie bully his comeuppance coupled with a line about how bullying is bad is borderline-insulting. There’s also something vaguely offensive about having the object of high school bullying turn into The Rock. Would that all of us could be so lucky. Instead of avoiding this minefield, Central Intelligence foolishly tries to “address” it and the result is just another of many miscalculations.
All of this adds up to one inescapable conclusion: Just because a movie uses the word “intelligence” doesn’t mean it has any.
In comedy, writing isn’t everything. Sometimes it counts for almost nothing. Comedies can be carried along on their spirit, a little like Popeye’s Wimpy being swept into the air by the aroma of a hamburger, made visible in the form of a wispy, beckoning hand.
That’s more or less how Rawson Marshall Thurber’s buddy comedy-crime caper hybrid Central Intelligence hangs together. Kevin Hart plays Calvin Joyner, a guy who was voted Most Likely to Succeed back in high school, circa 1996, but who’s now feeling oppressed by his going-nowhere Baltimore accounting job. Dwayne Johnson is Bob Stone, an old classmate who used to be chubby but who somehow grew and solidified into—well, Dwayne Johnson. Bob suffered a particularly cruel humiliation during senior year, seen in an early flashback; Calvin stuck up for him in a very basic but kind way. Calvin forgot the episode, but Bob never did. As the class’s 20th reunion approaches, Calvin, embarrassed by the rut he’s stuck in, has no interest in attending. But Bob connects with him via Facebook and persuades him to come out for a beer. From there, the new Bob Stone, who looks nothing like the old Bob Stone but who has retained his high-school level of sweet, embarrassing nerdiness—“I’m big into unicorns. So magical, right?”—lures Calvin into an adventure that involves stolen government secrets and a bunch of hotheaded CIA agents.
The plot means nothing: It’s just a kiddie pool in which Johnson and Hart can mess around, a chance for each to revel in the other’s particular mode of controlled craziness. Hart’s personal brand is built on his twitchy, nervous energy. Compact and muscular, he’s a powerhouse of vitality wound tight, like a pop-up snake coiled in a fake peanut can. You can almost see the Brownian motion of his anxiety building up. Part of the joy of watching him lies in waiting for the lid to blow off.
Johnson is taller, broader, sunnier, with an easy drawl and a quick smile. They’re an unlikely duo, a mismatched salt-and-pepper set, but the contrast is goofily splendid. Johnson cools Hart down a bit; Hart pushes Johnson forward ever so slightly, like a jazz drummer goosing the beat. Sometimes—often—Johnson’s Bob will say something that’s totally wrong, as when he eagerly compliments Calvin on how well he looks in a new suit: “You look like a black Will Smith!” Hart’s face crumples as he registers the weirdness of this comment. “I think that might be racist,” he says, “but I’ll take it as a compliment.”
It is racist, probably, but that’s the genius of the joke: Bob’s spontaneous enthusiasm is so genuine that Calvin can’t help but accept it—after all, there are bigger battles to fight. Much of Central Intelligence works that way. Like all good comedies, it’s dotted with things you think you probably shouldn’t laugh at, which only makes them funnier. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber, working from a script he co-wrote with Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, keeps the story moving briskly, so its flaws pass by in a blur. (Thurber also directed the 2004 Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, an energetic and inventively silly comedy about everyone’s—or at least just my—least favorite phys ed staple.) The stealth ingredients of Central Intelligence include Amy Ryan as a stern CIA agent—Ryan is a terrific dramatic actress, and it’s fun to watch her cut loose, even as the straight woman, in a comedy. But no one can steal the show from Johnson and Hart. Their dual rhythms, alternately laid back and hyperactive, end up in a glorious and ridiculous kind of syncopation, unicornlike in its rarity and oddness. So magical, right?